I have had to chuckle to myself about Republican leadership’s call for more “intellectual diversity” in South Dakota’s public university system. The crux of the argument is that South Dakota’s universities do not have enough Republican professors and administrators, or perhaps even worse in their minds, has too many Democrats. It is startling to me that politicians now feel the need to cast even teachers into partisan groups. What’s next? Are we going to start dividing ourselves between Republican and Democratic dentists? Auto parts managers? Hairstylists? When will it end?
I went to the University of South Dakota from 2004 to 2008. My wife went to USD law school from 2011 to 2014. Needless to say, I have had a lot of interaction with South Dakota’s faculty over the last 15 years. My experience is that our professors do not care about partisanship but instead possess the sole yearning desire that their students would develop the ability to do the work and think critically. What mattered was not so much where you ended, but the work you put in to get there.
For example, in my freshman year at USD, I took a political science course about the death penalty. My professor was openly opposed to the death penalty in all circumstances. Nevertheless, she taught all perspectives on the death penalty equally, and she actively encouraged students to argue with each other over the merits of the death penalty. She herself would often passionately articulate the pro-death penalty argument even though it was not her personal belief. At the end of the class, every student had all the facts, figures, and arguments for and against the death penalty, and we all reached different opinions to varying degrees about the death penalty’s role in society.
Economics is an area of thought that often gets criticized for being too conservative, but again, I never felt that my USD professors were actively promoting one school of thought. My labor economics professor, who is now the head of the USD Economics Department, presented all viewpoints on the labor economy, and I still have not been able to figure out exactly where he falls on the political spectrum! I also don’t care. He is a good teacher. Current State Representative and former Professor Ray Ring was famous for always taking the contrarian position for the benefit of the class even when it was not his own personal belief. A devil’s advocate if there ever was one.
Partisanship has destroyed our government. It threatens our American culture based on our shared values of fairness, hard work, and respect for one another. We should not let politicians and partisanship invade our educational systems because I like my dentist and my barber, and I am pretty sure they are both Republicans! Let teachers teach, let hairstylists be hairstylists, let auto parts managers be auto parts managers.
Instead of becoming blind by a narrow focus on the flame of partisanship, I invite our state Republican leadership to join me and retired USD Professor Mary Pat Bierle, a Republican, to “take a walk around the lantern” and think critically about why Americans have different opinions and why those differences matter towards forming a more perfect union.